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Badlands

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Jon barely has the strength to look up when he hears the sound of footsteps approaching. The red glare from the lamp above is draining and he’s been wondering what kind of dark magics and deals the Al Ghuls have entered to have somehow harnessed the effects of a red sun. He squints weakly at the two people on the other side of the bars as he hears the clatter of the unlocking gates.

Jon sees Maya together with another young man enter. The young man crosses his arms over his chest as he leans on the wall, watching Jon with wary eyes. Maya crouches in front of Jon, reaching out to remove the chains that kept him tied to the wall.

“So this is Damian’s new pet?” The young man asks with a somewhat skeptical tone. “He doesn’t look like much.”

“Suren, don’t be cruel.” Maya sighs. “And he’s kryptonian surrounded by his weaknesses. Of course it’ll be like this.”

“I don’t need to be cruel,” Suren says with a scoff and a sneer. “Damian accomplishes that just fine.”

“And yet you remain by his side,” Maya says with an amused smile. “What does that say about you?”

“You’re here too,” Suren shoots back. “So, what does that say about you?”

“Maya?” Jon manages to say though his voice still seems weak after the days spent in the prison after his attempt at escape. “Are they going to kill me?”

Maya smiles at him. “I think we both know why we stay, Jon, and that’s because we believe that Damian isn’t quite as awful as everyone thinks he is,” she says. Suren makes a strange disbelieving sound from across the cell and Maya shoots him a glare. She gently rubs at the sore skin of Jon’s wrist where the shackles have left their mark. “He’s not going to kill you.”

Suren shifts from his position as Maya helps Jon to his feet. He groans as he stands, feeling someone has beaten the fight out of him. The other young man reminds Jon of Damian with the way he carried himself and the arrogant way he spoke. He wonders who Suren really is. Is he another Al Ghul that Jon has to watch out for? Suren’s gaze roves over Jon like he’s sizing him up and Jon fights the urge to spit out some insult, fights the urge to prove them all wrong and show that he hasn’t given up yet.

He wants to prove it to them, no, he wants to prove it to himself.

Suren smirks and turns away, opening the gates for them to pass through. “You shouldn’t give the kryptonian promises that might not be true, Ducard,” he says. “That might be more cruel than anything me or Damian has ever done.”

Maya rolls her eyes and Jon wonders, for a moment, if everyone in Nanda Parbat was somewhat crazy.

-----

“That won’t work, demon brat,” Jason drags his finger through the map, drawing out a clear line. “If I was any competent tactician, I would set up blockades all over the border. We can’t just send supplies to Gotham and Bludhaven without thinking about how those supplies would pass these things.”

Jon looks at the proceedings in the room with widened eyes. There was a round table where maps and documents laid scattered. Damian sits, scanning the papers with impassive eyes while Mara gaze at it with barely disguised annoyance. Jon wonders what she was annoyed about, if it was the battles that was occuring, their results, or the discussion she was having with her cousins. Jason paces around the table, picking up some documents before putting it down again. There are other people that the Kryptonian prince doesn’t recognize.

They had walked into a war room and Jon knows, without a doubt, that he wasn’t supposed to be there.

“We need an escort for it,” Jason declares, hands bracing on the edge of the table as he leans down to scan the maps. “Anyone you trust to send, demon brat?”

“Why not have Damian go?” Mara offers with a scoff. “After all, he hasn’t done any kind of contribution to the war.”

“It is my duty to stay here as heir, cousin,” Damian says as he glances at her with challenge in his eyes. Mara sneers at him and there is a tension between them that cannot be hidden. Jon remembers the talk of a duel and notes the bandages that peek out from under Mara’s sleeve or Damian’s bruised knuckles and split lip. Maybe the duel did happen, he thinks with a grimace.

“You’re growing soft in these walls, Damian.”

“Wasn’t soft enough that I couldn’t beat you, was I?”

Mara’s eyes flare with murderous rage before Jason slams his hand on the table. “Stop,” he orders with a snarl. “Am I babysitting children now? Is that it? Cause that’s what I’m getting from you both.”

“Shut up, Todd,” Damian says through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, you don’t even belong here,” Mara laughs mockingly. “You’re just Talia’s stray. You’re not an Al Ghul.”

Damian glares at Mara despite his own words just moments ago. Jason, on the other hand, seems amused. He throws his head back and laughs. “Like I ever want to be one,” he says, still snickering as he moves one of the pieces over the map. “Now, as I was saying,” he looks up then pauses. It takes Jon a moment to realize that the prince is staring right at him, at them who just arrived.

The pause takes too long. Mara, Damian, and the rest of the people in the room turn their heads towards the new arrivals. Suren moves with assured grace and takes a seat beside the young red-haired man who sat beside Damian. He takes the documents from the young man’s hands and scans them himself. Maya steps away from Jon and shrugs at the rest of the room. She seems to unconcerned and it is a great contrast to the way Jon feels the panic rising in him.

He had come to many close calls with death but this feels too much like inviting danger itself.

“You’re late,” Damian says. “We had to start without you. Mara was too impatient.”

“That’s fine,” Maya crosses the room to sit beside Damian. “Knowing you, you’ll have stuff for us review later on anyway.”

Damian hums in amusement, a little smirk playing on his lips. His hand strokes something on his lap but the table keeps Jon from seeing what it is. The rest of the room is still staring at him like they couldn’t believe his presence in the room.

“You haven’t killed him yet?” Mara laughs and sneers at Jon. Jon flinches at the sound and the look of her sightless eye as her gaze roves over him. It is different from Suren’s calculating assessment earlier. She looks more like she wants to devour him and Jon almost steps back, feeling like the collar on his throat could be some kind of target, some kind of guide telling people where to slice to kill him.

“I never said I would,” Damian states plainly.

Mara gives her cousin a look of disgust as she shakes her head. “You really have grown soft, cousin.”

Damian frowns. “Because I prefer not to have my toys broken?” He scoffs. “Please, I’m just being practical. Right now, he’s more useful to me alive.”

“Damian,” Jason says in a warning tone. The older prince is still staring at Jon and Jon shifts under that inhuman gaze. In daylight, the older prince’s eyes look normal but the Kryptonian still remembers the strange light of it during his escape. “You should know what your playing at.”

“I don’t need you to look out for me, Todd,” Damian says, raising his chin and giving the older prince that same smug look. “I know what I’m doing.”

Jason sighs as he looks at his brother and he shrugs in defeat. “Sure,” he concedes.

Damian presses his lips in a line as he looks from his brother to his cousin. He shifts his gaze between them before smiling. “And no one is to touch him, are we clear?”

“I don’t follow your orders,” Mara snarls. “But, I don’t want anything to do with your unruly slave.”

Jason shrugs. “I don’t care, demon brat.”

“Good,” Damian nods in satisfaction. He turns to address Jon and it is the first time Damian’s looked at him since he left him in that prison cell. There is a bitter taste in his mouth and the familiar taste of bile and blood. He reminds himself that the pain he’s felt the past few days or week has been Damian’s fault. He thinks of the red light and the sharp pain of kryptonite all around him. He’s angry and he wants so badly to show Damian how it feels to be helpless.

But, the people in this room would stop him if he even tries anything threatening against the young prince. Jon still feels the ache in his shoulders from when Jason had threatened him after his failed attempt, can still remember the prince’s threat of death if Jon had harmed his younger brother.

“Jon,” Damian’s voice rises over the din of the anger in Jon. Jon looks up at him and meets his eyes from across the room. He curls his hands into fists, digging his fingers into his palm to stop himself. He takes deep breaths even as he wants to take those fists of his and drive them into Damian’s smug face. “Come here.”

Jon jerks at the prince’s command and hesitates. There are eyes staring at him, waiting for him to move. Jon finds himself freezing even as his mind screams at him to move, to stop resisting. He can’t stop resisting. It’s been too long. He doesn’t know exactly how long but anything could have happened to Krypton since he’s been gone.

“Shall I put the dog down, cousin?”

“Shut up, Mara,” Damian says, voice cold and unforgiving. He scowls at Jon and repeats his order. “Come here, Jon. You’ve learned your lesson, haven’t you?”

Jon takes a deep and buries the resentment inside. He can’t die yet. He still has to come home and if Damian is stupid enough to give him this second chance then he’ll take it. He has to for he has no other choice. He jerks a nod and crosses the room to stand a step behind Damian by his side. He could now see that Damian had been petting a big, black dog.

Damian doesn’t even look at him to see if he follows when he gives his next order. “Kneel.”

Jon thinks about how much he doesn’t want to spend another week under the effects of a red sun, how he probably can’t, not without truly damaging himself. He sinks to his knees even as the older prince of Gotham smoothly goes back to his discussion of their plans to send some supplies to Gotham and Bludhaven in order to help their efforts in the war.

Jon ducks his head and listens. It is all he can do for now. He doesn’t even flinch when Damian stops petting his dog and shifts his hand to card them through Jon’s own dark hair. And if he leans in closer to the other prince’s touch? Well, he tells himself it’s been a while since he’s had someone familiar touch him so gently.

Maybe Maya thinks that Damian isn’t unredeemable. Jon, though, still isn’t quite convinced.

-----

“Damian,” Jason says, stopping Damian with a hand on his arm as they leave the meeting room. He’s dismissed the others but Jon is still beside him, his eyes lowered and strangely quiet.

A week ago, Jon would have been trying to have a conversation with him as they made their way to Damian’s room. The other had always been cheeky, had always acted too familiar with a prince. It only ever served to support Damian’s suspicions about him. He misses it though, the banter and conversation, Jon’s easy smiles and behavior. This quiet subservient boy beside him isn’t quite the same. A part of Damian hopes that he hasn’t quite succeeded in breaking Jon. Another part of him knows that it’ll be much easier to deal with a broken Kryptonian especially if it turns out that he was also a broken prince.

“What is it, Todd?”

“I need to talk to you,” Jason says. His eyes flick to Jon and then back again. “Alone.”

“Just tell me,” Damian says. He hasn’t got time for mysteries and uncertainties. There is too much of those at the moment. His father is still missing and they have yet to receive missives from both Drake and Richard. It is quite unsettling.

Jason sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. The white streak is missing today. He wonders why Jason bothers to hide it in the halls of ‘Eth Alth’eban where everyone knows of the Al Ghul’s Lazarus pit.

“Spit it out, Todd,” Damian says through gritted teeth. “Everyone’s already left.”

“And your...servant?”

“Jon?” Damian turns to the other who lifts his head at the sound of his name. “You won’t say a word of this to anyone.”

Before Jon could answer him, Damian’s brother speaks once again. “How well did it go when you ordered him to never try to escape?”

“Funny,” Damian scoffs. “I don’t remember ever giving such an order.”

“Whatever,” Jason says, shaking his head without waiting for the Kryptonian’s answer. “Fine. People will find out eventually anyway. Your grandfather’s coming back here.”

“What?” Damian stills. His grandfather should be in Gotham, bothering Drake and making plans about the war. “What about Drake? Why didn’t you mention this in the meeting?”

“I’m not supposed to know it,” Jason replies with a careless shrug. He waves a hand to dismiss concern but Damian could see the way his face scrunches up as he speaks. He blows out a breath and drops his hand to his side, fingers tracing the hilt of his sword. It isn’t the all-blades but Damian didn’t expect to see Todd use those so casually.

“So how do you know it?”

“I’ve got my ways,” the older says with a grin. “Unfortunately, those ways hasn’t been able to tell me where Tim has gone. He’s either still searching for Bruce or for Prince Kon.”

Jon makes a small surprised sound and Damian glances at him only to see his widened eyes. He seems to realize that he’s gotten both prince’s attention because he ducks his head. It is too late though because Damian and Jason have both already seen the several expressions that passed through his face.

Jason curses under his breath. “Please don’t tell me this who I think it is.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Damian says without hesitation. Jon stills beside him as Damian takes his wrist in his hand. “This is Jon. You already know he’s a gift from my mother.”

“Is that all he is, demon brat?”

“What else could he be?”

“I don’t know,” Jason’s voice goes low, almost something that they would not be able to hear. “Perhaps one of the lost princes of Krypton?”

“Is that what you think?”

“Am I wrong?”

Damian shrugs without concern. He has his own suspicions about Jon, of course, but he isn’t sure of his own mother’s motivations. He doesn’t want to act without that knowledge. He doesn’t want to either release or kill Jon without knowing the entire truth of why Talia had sent him here. Damian is almost entirely sure that Jon is Prince Jonathan of Krypton and he can see that Jason is suspecting it as well. Jason isn’t stupid. Unfortunately, no matter their antics, none of his brothers really are as stupid as Damian sometimes insults them to be.

“What if he is?”

Jason grimaces and sighs. “Then I wonder what the fucking hell T was thinking when she sent him here,” Jason says, staring at Jon with something akin to fascinated horror. “Ra’s al Ghul will have your head if he knows.”

Damian sees Jon pale. When Jon speaks, his voice seems hoarse and soft from disuse. Damian feels guilt about abandoning Jon but he cannot have his cousin or anyone else in the fortress question his authority which they wills surely do if he ever allowed Jon to go without punishment. The thought of apologizing has crossed his mind but he wonders if the Kryptonian prince would even believe it to be sincere.

“Why?” Jon asks. “Why would he want me dead?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Jason scoffs. “It’s Ra’s fucking al Ghul. He takes what he wants.”

“You’re a prince,” Damian states. “Princes are threats.”

“They’re also bargaining chips,” Jason says with a grimace. “Believe me, I know. So, who knows which one you’ll be? Better start praying to Rao, your highness, your time is ticking. And Damian? Nevermind. You can take of yourself, right?”

“Of course, Todd,” Damian scowls at him. “I am better than you. I can do just fine.”

Jason still looks between the two of them. Damian sees his gaze linger on Damian still holding on to Jon’s wrist. Jon still hasn’t pulled it back. He still seems like he’s trying to digest what he’s been told. Damian figures being given a deadline to your life can’t be called easy or anything as such. The fact that he’s not even trying to hide his royal lineage is, perhaps, further proof of Jon’s exhaustion.

“Good,” Jason nods and turns to leave. Damian watches him go and his older brother seems to sense his gaze because Jason stops at the end of the hall to shoot a look at Damian. “I’ll be here for some more time, demon brat. Come see me if you need anything, I guess. Or not. Your choice.”

Damian nods. It has always been his choice. It was his choice to leave Gotham as well, to try and figure out his real birthright. It was his choice to stay in ‘Eth Alth’eban when he heard about his father’s disappearance, when he felt like they didn’t him there after his year of atonement. It was Damian’s choice to stay in Nanda Parbat to see if he could change it and make it his the way it now belonged to Ra’s.

If he had never made those choices, they wouldn’t be here now. He wouldn’t be pulling the younger prince along the corridors of this old fortress, one of the oldest cities in Nanda Parbat, and wondering if he’s made the right choice, after all.

-----

“Did you know from the start?” Jon asks the moment the doors close in Damian’s chambers. Damian ignores him in order to place the documents he took from the meeting on his desk. His desk’s a mess and it bothers him. He opens his mouth and almost orders Jon to clean it up while he changed his clothes.

But, that is something he did with the Jon before the escape, when there was a chance that they might actually become allies. It is a chance that Damian feels has long vanished.

“Know what?” Damian asks despite knowing for sure what the younger prince is talking about. He takes his sword from its sheath on his back and places it on its stand behind his bed. The gauntlets are removed from his arms and not once does he look to the other still standing by the door.

“That I was Krypton’s prince,” Jon says. He moves further into the room, steps as silent as any other assassin here in his grandfather’s kingdom, none of the clumsy and endearing prince of days ago.

Damian takes a seat on the lounge by the open window. He crosses his leg and stares at Jon with a smirk. “You didn’t exactly make it difficult for me.”

“Why didn’t you just kill me then?”

“You heard my brother,” Damian says. “Bargaining chip.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jon twists his hands in front of him before hiding it behind his back. He looks around the room, his face slowly morphing into confusion. “None of this makes sense. I could kill you right now. There’s no one else here. Why take this risk?”

“Do you really think you could kill me?” Damian asks in surprise. His gaze goes to the collar around Jon’s throat, beautiful, delicate and so very dangerous. It could be deadly if it has been some other kind of Kryptonite placed there. It could have made him so sick he’d barely be able to move yet the Kryptonian prince still believed that he could win against Damian. Damian has been his grandfather’s heir since he was born, was trained in the art of death for that end and knows every trick he could use to kill Jon even at his full strength. The younger prince would never have stood a chance.

Yet, Jon just shrugs as if he didn’t comprehend the danger he was in. Damian narrows his eyes at him. Jon just smiles at him, cheeky and charming at the same time, as he finally relaxes enough to drag Damian’s desk chair so he could sit across Damian. “You don’t think I can do it?”

“You’re at a disadvantage,” Damian laughs mockingly. “You’re not even at full strength.”

“Maybe it just levelled the playing field.” Jon grins at him. He was wrong then, Damian thinks. The Kryptonian prince is far from broken, just cautious and clever enough to appear subservient in a crowd.

Damian leans forward and decides to humor the other prince. “And what is your plan if you do manage to kill me? Die by my family’s swords?”

“Who says I can’t get out of here?”

“Please, Jon,” Damian shakes his head and smirks. “We already saw how that attempt went.”

“Why is your brother looking for mine?”

“Pardon?” Damian blinks, startled at the sudden change in subject. He watches the slight shift of Jon’s movements and wonders if the sudden change wasn’t quite so sudden. The young man has shown that he is capable of clever plans if he feels like it. It wouldn’t be suspect for him to be trying to fish for more information.

“Kon,” Jon bites his lips and Damian so clearly feels the need to make him stop. A kiss would do it, a traitorous part of him whispers, that diversive part of him that also doesn’t quite want Jon to stop but instead wants to do it himself, wants to taste iron in his mouth as Jon’s lips are painted red with blood. He shakes his head as Jon continues speaking. “Prince Tim is looking for him?”

“Is it so strange to look for one’s beloved?”

Jon makes a choked off noise and Damian smiles in amusement. So, the other prince had not known of his own brother’s affairs. “Beloved?”

“Yes,” Damian says with a laugh. “Did you not know?”

“Kon didn’t,” Jon frowns and shakes his head. “He didn’t say anything. But, we weren’t always close and he was always in Metropolis.”

“Isn’t your mother born of Metropolis?”

“She lived there, yes,” Jon agrees. “But, we stay in Kandor more often. Why am I even telling you this? Why didn’t I know my brother and your brother had...a relationship?”

“As I understand it, they took up a quest together years ago.” Damian lets his gaze stray from the other prince to the view outside. The sun is setting. It would be dark soon and he is reminded once again of Jon’s attempt at escape. He wonders if he’d risk it again, if Damian should just decide to chain him up here so he doesn’t try anything as stupid. He’s sure that would cause another strife between them both. He just isn’t sure if it’s a conflict he has the luxury to afford.

“Why have we never met, Damian?” Jon asks in a curious tone. He speaks like they are equals and, in a way, Damian imagines that they actually are. They are both princes but one is a prisoner of the other. He should be angry. Mara would be. An Al Ghul would be. But, Damian hasn’t simply been just an Al Ghul for a long time. Richard would not have been angry, he reminds himself and turns a curious gaze towards Jon.

“What do you mean?”

“Our fathers have always worked together,” Jon points out with a small smile. Damian can almost convince himself that the young man holds no animosity against him with that smile. But, smiles can be just another form of lies. The courts of the different states would teach you that and he reminds himself that Jon had grown up in very similar circumstances. “It seems our brother worked together too. It would have made sense for us to have met before this...mess had happened.”

“We never needed to.”

Jon rolls his eyes, looking exasperated. Damian should order him to stop but the idea of a friend, of an equal, is strangely compelling. He has friends, of course, but it isn’t quite the same. Most of his friends are comrades, bonds he’d forged through adversity.

Jon should be the same, another convenient ally that might either become enemy or friend, yet Damian isn’t about to deny the fact that he’s never felt the need or curiousity to touch and kiss, or hold any of the others the way he does with Jon.

“Need doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Be practical, Jon,” Damian sneers. “Princes should be concerned with their duties and responsibilities not with useless diversion.”

“Friendship is not a useless diversion.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Maya and the others,” Jon grins. “They’re your friends, aren’t they?”

“It was convenient at the time for me to be friends with them,” Damian chuckles.

“Was it?” Jon snorts and scrunches up his face. “That’s a boring life you’re living, Dami.”

“Do not call me that,” Damian crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes. “You’re being too familiar. I can always return you to a prison cell.”

“You won’t do that,” Jon says and his grin is entirely too pleased this time like he’s caught Damian in a trap he could not possibly get out of. Damian glares at him and wonders if it is too late to just leave him in some cell and not worry about him until he needs him again.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

Jon leans forward far too fast that Damian almost draws one of his hidden daggers thinking it was another attempt from the other. His heart races inside his chest and he wonders if the collar Jon is wearing allows for enough of his Kryptonian abilities that he would be able to hear it, sense the fear and uneasiness in Damian for being so close. This close, Damian thinks with a little wonder, that Jon’s eyes are so brilliantly blue. “You need me.”

“I need you?” Damian scoffs. He feels the pull to card his hair through Jon’s hair, continue petting him like he did in the meeting. He wonders what the other prince would say then. He wants to laugh though. It seems like a joke for a prisoner to tell a prince that he needed him. Damian hasn’t needed anyone since he was a child. He didn’t think he’d start with an upstart captive prince. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Come on, Dami!” Damian imagines that Jon’s laugh then would usually be so infectious. He wonders how many people in Kandor had fallen for the young prince’s charm. “I can be a convenient ally. Wouldn’t you like a Kryptonian on your side?”

“You mean until you betray me?”

Jon smirks and winks at Damian before he leaps away playfully. “What? Are you scared, your highness?” Jon asks and he drags his finger over the gold and green of his collar. “I have this and you said you can always beat me without it. Was that a lie?”

“Of course not,” Damian says. He closes his eyes and thinks. The other prince is probably playing him but he doesn’t have the energy to argue with Jon every step of the way if his grandfather was coming back. He doesn’t think he wants to truly be set against the Kryptonian prince. No matter how much Damian hates to admit, Jon is right. He is a convenient ally that Damian could use on his side.

“Alright,” Damian says as he opens his eyes. He stands up until they are standing across from one another. Jon stands a good few inches taller than him and Damian almost scowls in displeasure as he offers his hand for a shake. “Do we have a deal?”

“Friends, then,” Jon agrees, taking his hand for a firm shake.

Damian glares and scowls at their joined at hands. “We are not friends,” he declares in a firm and sure manner. Jon laughs as if it is all a big joke that Damian’s making. Damian decides that he’d let it pass. For now, the prince is an ally though an obnoxious one that Damian should really be able to do without.

-----